Posts Tagged ‘transparency’

Nevada Fares Poorly In New Corruption, Transparency Ranking By National Group

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 9:00 am March 20th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Nevada received a D- and ranked 42nd among states for anti-corruption and government transparency efforts, according to a new report from State Integrity Investigation.

Nevada rated poorly in a number of areas, including grades of F for state pension fund management, lobbying disclosure and internal auditing, grades of D for public access to information and legislative accountability and a C- for executive accountability.

Among the Nevada findings in the months-long probe, a collaboration of the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity and Public Radio International, are:

- Lobbyists can operate year round, but their networking and hospitality are tracked for a narrow window of time – just right before, during and right after legislative sessions.

- Nevada Legislature has exempted itself from open-meeting laws.

The Nevada report by Joan Whitely says: “The state’s legislative framework factors heavily in that poor grade. Since part-time lawmakers must earn a living through other jobs, all face potential conflicts when proposed laws touch their sources of income.

“Other gaps in ethics protection – from flimsy lobbying reporting requirements to a huge loophole in the state’s open meeting law to unlimited gifts allowed for public officials – further erode accountability.”

The national report says that no states earned an A grade in the months-long probe. Only five states earned  a B grade: New Jersey, Connecticut, Washington, California, and Nebraska. Nineteen states got C’s and 18 received D’s. Eight states earned F’s: Michigan, North Dakota, South Carolina, Maine, Virginia, Wyoming, South Dakota, and Georgia.

New Report Says Nevada Remains Average In Providing Public Access To Government Spending

By Sean Whaley | 4:25 pm March 15th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Nevada barely earned a C grade for its efforts in providing online access to government spending data with a score of 70, according to the latest report: “Following the Money 2012”, released this week by a national group.

The report from the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs) ranked Nevada 31st among the states, with Texas coming in at No. 1 with a score of 98 and Idaho coming in last with a score of 6.

Following the Money 2012.

Nevada’s score declined slightly from the 2011 report when it earned a 74.

It is the U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s third annual ranking of states’ progress toward “Transparency 2.0” – a new standard of comprehensive, one-stop, one-click budget accountability and accessibility.

The report found that continued progress has been made over the past year, with new states providing online access to government spending information and several states pioneering new tools to further expand citizens’ access to spending information and engagement with government.

The release was timed to coincide with Sunshine Week, a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.

Nevada was identified as one of 14 “emerging states” with a C grade for its transparency website, which was described as having checkbook-level detail that is easily searchable, but that is far less comprehensive in terms of detail as the 21 states with A and B grades.

Nevada’s under-performing areas include the inability to search for information by a keyword or activity, only partial ability to obtain contract or summary information, a lack of access to tax expenditure reports, and the inability to download data.

Nevada’s transparency ranking may soon improve, however, as the state moves into a new era of Priorities and Performance Based Budgeting (PPBB).

State Budget Director Jeff Mohlenkamp discussed the new budget process, which was used to a limited extent in the 2011 budget, during a budget planning session today with state administrators. The new budget development process was required as a result of legislation passed in 2011.

One of the goals of the new budget process is to provide increased accountability of state government, he said.

Gov. Brian Sandoval has involved his entire cabinet in the process, which has identified four strategic priorities for his administration: sustainable and growing economy, educated and healthy citizenry, safe and livable communities, and efficient and responsive state government.

There are also eight core functions of government, from public safety to education and workforce development.

“Our goal throughout this process was to improve transparency,” Mohlenkamp said.

Change is not easy, he said.

“But major decision-makers in the state, starting with the governor, have put their weight behind moving Nevada forward,” Mohlenkamp said.

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Audio clips:

State Budget Director Jeff Mohlenkamp says the new budgeting process is about transparency:

031512Mohlenkamp1 :30 trying to accomplish.”

Mohlenkamp says Gov. Sandoval and others want to move forward:

031512Mohlenkamp2 :14 moving Nevada forward.”

 

Heller Welcomes Cooperation from House Democrats on Supercommittee Transparency

By Elizabeth Crum | 2:43 pm September 23rd, 2011

Senator Dean Heller is glad to have help from some Dems when it comes to beating the transparency drum.

As I noted in an earlier post today, Heller introduced a supercommittee transparency bill about a month before this new measure sponsored by some House Dems showed up.

“Senator Heller welcomes all efforts to stop the Super Committee from meeting in secret,” said spokesperson Stuart Bybee. “This latest bill is further proof that there is bipartisan concern over this committee’s deliberations and which special interests are influencing the process.”

Redwood National Park / http://www.nps.gov/redw/

The committee has been granted tremendous political power in its mission to find more than $1.2 trillion in cuts from the federal budget before year end. As such, members are naturally being schmoozed by lobbyists who want to keep their pet projects safe.

Lawmakers of both parties along with sunlight and transparency advocacy groups are now calling on the committee to meet in public and disclose all meetings with lobbyists. The House bill would require the supercommittee to:

– Stream meetings live on television and on the web;

– Disclose on-line all meetings with lobbyists and special interests within 48 hours;

– Disclose on-line any contributions to their campaign committees or leadership PACs made by registered lobbyists or special interests, as well as all contributions exceeding $500 in general, within 48 hours; and

– Publish recommendations and proposed legislation on-line 72 hours before any vote occurs.

 

 

Heller Again Asks for Super Committee Transparency

By Elizabeth Crum | 3:29 pm August 11th, 2011

Today, U.S. Senator Dean Heller and Rep. Vern Buchanan (FL-13) sent a letter to each of the newly-appointed members of the Super Committee requesting that proceedings be open to the public.

U.S. Senator Dean Heller

The letter asks that all meetings and hearings be conducted in a transparent manner through advanced public notification, public attendance and live television broadcasts.

Said Heller:

…the American people deserve a responsive government that is fully accountable. Most Americans would agree that because of the magnitude of the decisions this Committee has been tasked with, proceedings should be transparent and open to the public.

Heller also introduced the Budget Control Joint Committee Transparency Act (S.1501), which requires all proceedings of the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction to be open to the public and available for television broadcast. Buchanan introduced similar legislation in the House.

In the days after the Budget Control Act was signed into law, Heller and a group of five Senators also wrote to Senate leadership requesting that they require transparency from the Super Committee.

Transparency Bills Hit Governor’s Desk

By Elizabeth Crum | 10:52 pm June 6th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Nevada may finally see greater transparency and accountability in election campaigns due to three landmark bills that arrived on Gov. Sandoval’s desk this week.

Secretary of State Ross Miller unsuccessfully championed the reforms in the two previous legislative sessions. Miller said in testimony before the Legislature in recent months that lawmakers could no longer ignore glaring gaps in the law that were revealed by questionable practices in recent election cycles.

“I’m finally satisfied that Nevada voters will have a clearer picture of who is funding political campaigns in Nevada and, as a result, will be able to make more informed decisions at the ballot box,” Miller said when the bills received final legislative approval.

Miller said that for too long, information about who is spending what to influence campaigns in Nevada has been hidden from the voters by archaic and ambiguous laws.

“At a time when record amounts of money are being spent to elect decision-makers at all levels of government, we owed it to the voters to shed more light on campaign financing practices,” said Miller.

Assembly Bills 81, 82, and 452 address aspects of campaign contribution and expense reporting as well as other sections of election law. If passed, more information to be made available to voters sooner than in the past.

Campaign Finance and Expense Reporting

Candidates for public office would be required to electronically file contribution and expense reports with the Secretary of State’s office. This would enable the creation of database that can be searched by candidate name, contributor name, dollar amounts, and other data.

Campaign contribution and expense reports would also have to be filed at least four days before the start of early voting in primary and general elections.

All Political Action Committees, other committees, and individuals who spend more than $100 on a public communication such as a radio or TV ad, billboard, or mass mailing would have to identify in the communication who paid for it.

In addition, any person or group who spends more than $100 in an attempt to influence the outcome of a Nevada election would have to register with the Secretary of State and file annual contribution and expense reports.

Individuals would now be prohibited from contributing to a PAC with the knowledge and intent that the PAC would contribute that money to a specific candidate if the contribution puts the individual over the authorized limits on contributions to a single candidate.

A foreign national would not be able make contributions to Nevada campaigns, and soliciting, accepting, or receiving any campaign contributions from foreign nationals would be illegal under state law, just as it is under federal law.

Voter Registration

Online voter registration would be be expanded from Clark and Washoe Counties to all counties across the state.

A voter registration agency, county clerk or registrar would not be able to knowingly employ a person to register voters if the person had been convicted of a felony involving theft or fraud.

Threatening a person or using intimidation in connection with the registration of voters could constitute a category E felony crime.

Miscellaneous provisions

Individual minor party candidates could be placed on the ballot only if the party obtains ballot access as already required by law.

Acts of tampering or interfering with or attempting to tamper or interfere with a mechanical voting system or computer program used to count ballots would be punishable as a category B felony.

Requirements to register as a Ballot Advocacy Group (BAG) to support or oppose a ballot question would be deleted from statute. Individuals and organizations would have to register as a Political Action Committee to engage in political activity to support or oppose a ballot question, and the reporting threshold for such groups would be lowered from $10,000 in contributions and/or expenditures to $1,000 during any reporting period.

State holidays would no longer be excluded from the early voting period.

An October, 2009 regulation prohibiting county clerks and registrars from releasing results of statewide and multi-county races until the Secretary of State determines that all polling places are closed and all votes have been cast would be codified.

 

 

 

Health Insurance Transparency Bill Sees Final Legislative Approval, Heads To Governor

By Sean Whaley | 1:29 pm May 31st, 2011

CARSON CITY – A bill imposing more transparency on rate increases sought by health insurance companies is now on its way to Gov. Brian Sandoval for his review.

Assembly Bill 309, sought by Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, requires health insurance companies to publicize their rate increase requests online and allows the public to participate in rate hearings before the Nevada Division of Insurance.

One supporter of the measure said the bill was weakened with the changes made by the Senate Commerce, Labor and Energy Committee but called it a good first step. The Assembly accepted the Senate amendment on Monday.

The bill passed the Assembly on a 33-9 vote, but saw only a 12-9 vote in the Senate. Democrats in the Senate were joined by Sen. Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora, in supporting the bill.

“This legislation would improve health insurance transparency by requiring health insurance companies to publicize rate increases online and hold health insurance companies responsible by requiring them to publicize the information justifying rate increases,” Oceguera said. “AB309 would make Nevada the fourth state to allow its citizens to request public hearings on rate increases.”

The bill would also benefit Nevada’s health insurance consumers by allowing the state to apply for almost $4 million in additional federal funding for increased rate review and online transparency, he said.

It would require insurance companies to post rate hearing information on their websites. The Division of Insurance will be required to link to the information as well.

“I am pleased this legislation passed the Senate, and I urge the governor to sign this common sense legislation,” Oceguera said.

Larry Matheis, executive director of the Nevada State Medical Association, called the amended bill a positive step.

“But we’ll have to do much better to make the health insurance industry’s actions and decisions transparent,” he said. “If we don’t, reforms can’t work. Over the next few years this may prove to be one of the most challenging aspects of health care reform. AB309 is a small step in the right direction.”

Matheis said more needs to be done to ensure the public knows what their health insurance policy actually covers and how premiums are used by the insurance companies.

The bill was amended to allow insurance companies to withhold some information deemed to be trade secrets.

“We took a step in this session, but it will have to be followed with much more in future sessions for the public to have any confidence that they can make meaningful decisions about health plans,” Matheis said.

Bill To Improve Accountability In State Contracting Wins Assembly Approval

By Sean Whaley | 8:33 pm April 26th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A bill aimed at increasing transparency and accountability in state contracting passed the Assembly by a deadline today and will now be considered in the Senate.

Assembly Bill 240, sponsored by Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, passed on a 40-2 vote.

“In these times of economic and budgetary challenges, it is more critical than ever that we take every step possible to use taxpayer revenue effectively, save money, and improve state services,” Smith said. “Bringing state contracting out into the open for all to see and establishing a cooling off period for state employees are great steps forward for accomplishing those goals.”

AB240 changes the definition of “consultant” to make sure the state contracting process is transparent and state agencies are held accountable for the contracts they award. The legislation would help prevent state contractors from receiving contracts in excess of what can be done in-house by state employees.  The bill would also extend the cooling off period before a retired state employee could contract with the state to two years.

AB240 would also explicitly permit auditing of all contracts in which persons are employed by the state. The terms of employment contracts would be publicly available, ensuring more transparency, holding the state accountable, and preventing abuses. The bill requires school districts to report their use of consultants as well. Additionally, the legislation would require that anyone who does business with the state must go through the business portal provided by the Secretary of State’s office to obtain a Nevada business license.

The legislation was prompted by an audit of Nevada state agencies using current and former employees as contractors. It identified numerous potential concerns, including a case of one worker seeking payment for 25 hours of work in one 24-hour day.

The audit also found an example of a current state employee earning $62,590 as a contractor in fiscal years 2008 and 2009 while earning a state salary as well.

The audit identified 250 current and former employees providing services to the state. These employees were paid a total of $11.6 million during fiscal years 2008 and 2009, the years covered by the review.

 

Governor Sandoval Rebuffs Democrats’ Request For Public Hearings On Ensign Replacement

By Andrew Doughman | 3:57 pm April 25th, 2011

CARSON CITY – The answer from Gov. Brian Sandoval is no.

Today the governor’s senior adviser, Dale Erquiaga, rebuffed a proposal from state Democratic legislators to hold public hearings and a public review process in selecting a replacement for resigning U.S. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev.

“I think the law and tradition are clear, this is an executive decision,” Erquiaga said at a press briefing this afternoon. “We appreciate the Assembly’s and Senate’s advice, but it’s not relevant to the current decision.”

Erquiaga said the governor has just two criteria for an appointment: the appointee should have a political ideology similar to Ensign’s and be qualified enough to “start work right away.”

The governor should select an appointee to the U.S. Senate by the end of this week, Erquiaga said. That decision would come ahead of May 3, the day Ensign officially resigns.

Assembly Democrats today argued for a one week period to allow candidates to declare their intention to be considered to replace Ensign. Under their proposal there would be an additional one week period when the governor would hold public hearings equivalent to public job interviews for the candidates.

“A question of public importance requires, I think, an open and transparent debate,” said Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas.

A similar vote in the Senate today provoked a party-line vote with Republicans arguing that both state law and the state’s constitution are clear that the governor should make an executive appointment.

Even one Senate Democrat seemed upset with the measure, which he said has “nothing to do with the work of this body.”

“We have so much to do,” said Sen. Mark Manendo, D-Las Vegas. “Really that [measure] has nothing to do with what we should be doing here. … It sounds like the constitution is pretty clear the governor gets to make an appointment.”

Oceguera’s statement echoes the reasoning Democrats have used to debate the governor’s proposed general fund budget in large, public hearings. Erquiaga praised the Legislature for efforts to “obtain additional information and have an open discussion.” But he said not all decisions are matters of public debate.

“You can’t even compare them. The budget process is always done in committee … that’s the budgetary process, that’s not an executive appointment,” Erquiaga said.

Assemblyman Lynn Stewart, R-Las Vegas, echoed Erquiaga in his call for the governor to follow precedent set in law and in Nevada tradition.

“I think we ought to keep the system that’s effective for both parties, Democrats and Republicans, since 1864,” Stewart said.

The Democrats proposal, Assembly Concurrent Resolution 8, seems to preempt a likely Sandoval appointment of current U.S. Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev. If Sandoval appoints Heller to the Senate, that would mean Heller’s seat would become vacant and a special election would have to be called to fill it.

“Any appointment that creates a vacancy in another office which necessitates a subsequent special election will cost Nevadans hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money at a time when severe cuts to education and essential services are under consideration,” the resolution states.

Secretary of State Ross Miller said this past weekend there are a number of costs associated with an election: printing up ballots, sending out ballots, securing locations for voting, programming voting machines and staffing the polling locations. He said, though, there is no “generic price tag” for an election.

Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas, said that the public should have a chance to ask questions of potential appointees, suggesting a question seemingly designed for Heller.

“Should we spend tax money on a special election at a time when the governor has asked us for shared sacrifice? We’ll only know the answer to critical questions like this if they are asked,” he said.

Senate Republicans, however, reiterated Assembly Republicans’ comments that past governors have had no controversy in appointing replacements for resigning member of Congress.

 

Bill Would Require More State Data To Be Hosted Online

By Andrew Doughman | 10:31 am March 30th, 2011

CARSON CITY – More of the state’s financial data would migrate online with a bill from Assemblyman Marcus Conklin, D-Las Vegas.

He would require the Controller’s office to post the state’s revenues and expenditures online with tables, graphs and explanatory descriptions for each account.

State Controller Kim Wallin already hosts financial on her website, as does Gov. Brian Sandoval. Conklin, however, said that the current data-displays lack charts, graphs and year-by-year comparisons that his bill would require.

Adding these things would not cost the state any money, he said, but would make arcane financial spreadsheets more accessible to the public.

Nevada Assemblyman Marcus Conklin, D-Las Vegas, speaks in committee at the Legislature. Conklin is sponsoring a bill that would put more state data online.

“Information is not readily available,” Conklin said. “It is very hard to find. … As some of you know in my private capacity, I do some economic research from time to time. … I can tell you from personal experience, finding good, usable consumable data is very, very difficult.”

Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-Las Vegas, who chairs the Assembly Government Affairs Committee that heard Conklin’s bill, said the bill would be like putting the state’s checkbook online.

Wallin testified in support of the bill.

“It’ll paint a picture,” she said. “A checkbook online, you look at your checkbook and it’s just a bunch of numbers … I think if we can start showing the trends of our expenditures, I think that paints a better picture.”

The committee took no action on the bill today.

 

 

Lawmakers Consider Bill To Improve Efficiency And Transparency Of Government Contracting

By Sean Whaley | 5:49 pm March 25th, 2011

CARSON CITY – The Senate majority leader today advanced a bill intended to make state and local government contracts more efficient and transparent to benefit both taxpayers and consumers was reviewed by a legislative subcommittee on Friday.

Among other provisions, Senate Bill 359 would require government contracts to be put out to bid rather than rolled over year after year to the same contractor. It would require all fees charged to the public in government contracts to be disclosed by the contractor. It would also require an annual report to the state on sole source contracting by agencies, which would then be provided to the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee.

State agencies and local governments would have to report this information to the state Purchasing Division, which would compile the data and forward it to lawmakers.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, one of the sponsors of the bill, said the measure could result in savings to state and local governments because contracts would be subjected to competition.

“This is a bill that goes to the heart of one of the things that we’ve been trying to accomplish this entire session: good government and government efficiency,” he said. “As we address the critical need for new revenue to support education and vital social services in this state, we also must face head-on the question of whether government is delivering services as efficiently as possible.

“Every dollar we save through efficiency measures is a dollar in new revenue we don’t have to raise,” Horsford said.

In a hearing earlier this session, Horsford expressed concern that recipients of jobless benefits and temporary assistance grants are being charged banking fees to withdraw funds from these government funded programs.

Evidence was also presented of sole-source contracts renewed year after year with no competitive bidding, he said.

Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, a primary sponsor of the bill, said the legislation would also ensure fairness and opportunity for Nevadans seeking to provide contract services to the state and local governments.

A number of other lawmakers spoke in support of the legislation, as did speakers in both Las Vegas and Carson City.

A section of the bill that received a lot of favorable testimony would require more reporting regarding race, ethnicity and gender on public works projects let to bid by the state and local governments. The information would be made public and reported to the Legislature.

Assemblywoman Dina Neal, D-North Las Vegas, said the data collection required in the bill could provide a foundation to establish contracting opportunities for minorities and women. Neal is pursuing a related measure that was heard today the Government Affairs Committee.

Audio clips:

Sen. Steven Horsford says the bill goes to the heart of good government and government efficiency:

032511Horsford1 :10 and government efficiency.”

Horsford says every dollar saved is a dollar in new revenue that does not have to be raised:

032511Horsford2 :21 have to raise.”

Horsford says the bill is about saving taxpayer dollars, but also about consumer protections:

032511Horsford3 :15 they are charged.”

State Lawmaker Seeks Bill To Increase Transparency Of Health Insurance Plans For Consumers

By Sean Whaley | 4:32 pm March 18th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Assembly Speaker John Oceguera testified today in support of a bill that would expand health insurance transparency for consumers so they can shop for the best coverage.

Assembly Bill 309, reviewed by the Assembly Commerce and Labor Committee, is opposed by many companies offering health insurance in Nevada. Only one insurance representative testified against the bill at the hearing, however.

Oceguera said when other states have adopted similar measures, including Maine, Pennsylvania and Colorado, consumers saw savings and lower rate increases.

“Currently, only the Department of Insurance may inspect an insurance company’s actuarial information and assumptions used by the company to justify their rate increase and the amount spent on things other than delivering medical care,” Oceguera said.

AB309 would change that to allow consumers and businesses shopping for insurance access to the information, he said.

“It increases transparency by making information that is used to justify these rate increases readily available to the public,” Oceguera said. “It allows individual consumers and small businesses to take a more in-depth look into policies when making their decisions on what insurance to purchase.”

Assembly Speaker John Oceguera/Photo: Cathleen Allison/NevadaPhotoSource.com

The bill would allow the public to request public hearings on rate changes in excess of 10 percent or for plans that represent more than 5 percent of the market, he said. The hearings would be open to the public.

Information available now includes only price and coverage, Oceguera said. The bill would greatly expand that information to include the loss ratio for the previous year, the anticipated loss ratio for the coming year and data justifying the requested increase, he said. It would all be posted on the Insurance Division’s website and the insurance company’s website.

Jack Kim, a lobbyist representing the Nevada Association of Health Plans, spoke in opposition to the bill but said the industry would continue to work with Oceguera to resolve its concerns. The public hearing and notice provisions could result in a five- to six-month process to get a rate increase approved, which is “a very long time,” he said.

Kim said insurance companies also compete with each other and would prefer to keep some of its data confidential.

The measure was supported by Nevada Insurance Commissioner Brett Barratt, who said it will dovetail nicely with the state’s effort to set up a health insurance exchange under the federal health care law so individuals can shop for and purchase health insurance.

It will allow more scrutiny of proposed health insurance rate increases to ensure they are reasonable and justified based on real data, he said.

“It will give consumers more power and ability to shop for insurance,” Barratt said.

Nevada is moving forward under Gov. Brian Sandoval to set up the exchange even as the state continues to challenge the constitutionality of the health care law.

The bill is also supported by Nevada State Medical Association. In testifying in support of the bill today, Executive Director Larry Matheis said it isn’t only the information required to be provided to consumers in the bill that is important.

“There are too many surprises when it comes to what the benefits of coverage actually turn out to mean in reality,” he said. “Transparency regarding coverage is less about what the salesman tells you they offer than it is about what coverages don’t they offer. When do they exclude coverage.”

Audio clips:

Assembly Speaker John Oceguera says his bill would open up insurance company information to the public:

031811Oceguera1 :15 delivering medical care.”

Oceguera says opening up the information will create an informed public:

031811Oceguera2 :18 insurance to purchase.”

Oceguera says the bill will help consumers actively participate in evaluating their insurance policies:

031811Oceguera3 :09 reviewing their policies.”

Larry Matheis of the Nevada State Medical Association says there are too many surprises now in what is covered by an insurance policy:

031811Matheis1 :06 mean in reality.”

Matheis says transparency about health insurance has to include information about medical conditions not covered by a policy:

031811Matheis2 :11 they exclude coverage.”

Nevada State Medical Association To Seek Health Insurance Transparency

By Sean Whaley | 3:29 pm December 7th, 2010

CARSON CITY – The Nevada State Medical Association believes consumers should have access to clear and understandable information about the cost and coverage provided under health care insurance policies before they sign on the dotted line.

Executive Director Larry Matheis  said the association will pursue legislation next year to require companies offering health insurance policies to post such information on the Nevada state website to provide transparency for such critical health care decisions.

“It is essential that people have an understanding of what they’re getting with this package called health insurance,” he said.

There are many anecdotal examples of people purchasing health insurance policies only to find out that illnesses such as cancer were excluded, Matheis said.

“So all of those kinds of issues are what we want to see a much more open demonstration of the information that people need,” he said. “They (insurance companies) can make decisions about what they will and won’t cover, but it has to be then very clearly explained to people at the front end, not the back end. You don’t want to be shocked after you’ve had care to find out that the insurer has decided, not that you didn’t need it, but that they’re not going to pay for it.”

Making health insurance decisions more transparent by providing the information up front to consumers is even more important as the federal health care law begins to take effect, Matheis said.

Transparency efforts are moving forward in Nevada in the areas of reporting key hospital and physician data, he said. But the same cannot be said for the health insurance policies offered by the insurance industry.

“How does the health insurance industry deal with things like coverage,” Matheis said. “What does coverage mean? When do they exclude something. When do they exclude somebody. How much of the premium dollar goes for health care. How much goes for other things. Just a range of issues.

“People don’t need to have the unpleasant surprise when they or their family are going through serious illness and medical care decision making,” he said. “That is not the time to find out what your insurer does and doesn’t cover.”

The association plans to work with lawmakers to require such information to be posted by the state on its official website. Matheis says he hopes to win the support of the state Insurance Commissioner and Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval in the effort, which has no significant fiscal issues associated with it.

State Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, said she has not talked with Matheis about his proposal but that it is an idea she would support. Standardizing such information would be of great benefit to consumers, she said.

“Of course we should be educating ourselves but reading an insurance policy is like trying to find a needle in a haystack,” Leslie said. “You can never find the answer to the question you have without a lot of work.”

Assemblyman David Bobzien, D-Reno, proposed a similar measure in the 2009 session that would have required health insurance policies to identify certain medical conditions not covered by the policy. It also would have required posting on the state website. Assembly Bill 438 did not make it out of the Assembly Commerce and Labor Committee, however.

Las Vegas attorney Jim Wadhams, a lobbyist who represents Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in the Nevada Legislature, said the industry would not likely have any issue with the idea of providing helpful health insurance information to consumers on the state’s official website.

But he did suggest that if the Legislature wants to move ahead with such an idea, it should include all health insurance providers, including those operated by private companies for their employees and those operated by such organizations as the Culinary Union.

“I don’t think the industry would have a particular problem with it,” he said. “But if we are going to have transparency let’s have it for all.”

Individuals seeking health insurance can already do some comparison shopping on the internet through a couple of different brokerages, ehealth.com and insuremonkey.com, Wadhams said.

“So the concept is not particularly radical,” he said.

 Matheis said the association agrees that all plans should be included. But he said the special need is going to be for those buying individual or small group plans, particularly if the health insurance exchanges are to function under the new Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Matheis said that while some opposition could emerge to the idea from the health insurance industry, it will be hard to oppose the idea of providing more information and information people need when they make their critical health care choices.

The idea is not to create new regulation or mandates, but to provide more sunshine on the issue of health care insurance coverage, he said.

“More front end information makes for fewer unpleasant surprises at the back end,” Matheis said. “If we do it right, that is what transparency brings to the health care system.”

Audio clips:

Larry Matheis of the Nevada Medical Association says people need to know what their health insurance plan covers before they need care:

120310Matheis1 :17 does not cover.”

Matheis says health insurance industry needs to make insurance information more transparent:

120310Matheis3 :13 that people need.”

Matheis says the public needs the information before purchasing health insurance:

120310Matheis4 :19 pay for it.”

Matheis says more information at the front end will eliminate unpleasant surprises at the back end:

120310Matheis5 :14 health care system.”

State Sen. Sheila Leslie says transparency in health insurance plans would be helpful to consumers:

120710Leslie1 :24 should participate in.”

Leslie says any way to help consumers understand policy coverages is important:

120710Leslie2 :15 is very important.”

Nevada State Controller, Republican Challenger Debate As Early Voting Looms

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 8:52 pm October 12th, 2010

Barry Herr, the Republican candidate challenging state Controller Kim Wallin in the November general election, said today he would bring a GOP point of view to the office and use the position to bring conservative influence to the discussion of taxes and other issues.

Wallin, running as a Democrat for a second term in the office, said the position overseeing the state’s checkbook is also about finding waste and inefficiencies, a job she has pursued over the past four years.

The two candidates discussed their positions and issues on Jon Ralston’s Face To Face television program.

While the controller position does not have a say in tax policy, Herr said he would use the position as a “bully pulpit” to influence any such discussions in the Legislature. Herr said he opposes any proposal for a personal or corporate income tax.

“I believe that as the controller I will also be able to perhaps give some influence up there,” he said. “And I do believe that I can give that, again, that fiscal conservative bent.”

Herr said he would also look at ways to save money in the office.

As part of her debt collection efforts, Wallin has posted the names of debtors and the amounts they owe to the state on her newly designed website as a way of recovering outstanding funds.

“And the debts that we have, actually when we told some of the debtors we were going to start publishing it, we did actually get some payments” she said.

Wallin says she has also been nonpartisan in the job, providing information to Republicans and Democrats on an impartial basis.

“If you are doing your job right as controller, it’s not being a liberal or conservative,” she said.

On the issue of transparency, Wallin said she supports the concept but expressed concerns about the potential for identity theft in the disclosure of such information. There are examples of where this information has been used in identity theft crimes in other states to steal millions, she said.

Herr said much of the state’s checkbook is online on the governor’s transparency website, but that the information is incomplete and difficult to find. The information should be on the controller’s website, he said.

Wallin said Gov. Jim Gibbons decided to pursue his own transparency website despite the fact that her office could have done the same for less money.

 Early voting begins Saturday.

Audio clips:

Controller Kim Wallin says she has worked to collect outstanding debts:

101210Wallin :13 and filing fees.”

Controller candidate Barry Herr said he would use the job to bring a GOP influence to issues:

101210Herr :28 fiscal conservative bent.”

Nevada Assembly Majority Leader Says Public Transparency Issues Will Be Major Focus Of 2011 Session

By Sean Whaley | 6:21 am September 10th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Assembly Majority Leader John Oceguera said yesterday he will pursue a number of transparency measures in the 2011 legislative session with an eye towards providing the public with accountability and confidence in how the state spends taxpayer dollars.

Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, said Assembly Democrats have been working on a number of ideas since last session, including a two-year “cooling off” period before former state lawmakers and other officials could work as lobbyists.

Oceguera, who is expected to be elected speaker for the 2011 session, said Assembly Democrats want to go even further than some other proposals for a cooling off law to include state regulators and local government officials as well.

“Some of these ideas were part of a bill last session that didn’t make it out of the Senate but made it out of the Assembly,” he said. “So it has been on our radar since at least last session and we’ve tried to refine it and look at what we think we can get passed. But some of the issues we’re going to pass out of the Assembly one way or the other.”

The cooling off proposal predates the recent controversy over former Assemblyman Morse Arberry, who resigned to accept a lobbying contract with the Clark County District Court. The contract was rejected earlier this week by the Clark County Commission.

In announcing the proposals earlier in the week, Oceguera said: “We’re serious about reforming the way Nevada government does its business. Today, we are putting a series of reforms before the public. They are common sense and timely measures, and I will work for bipartisan support in both the Assembly and Senate.”

Among the reforms Assembly Democrats will pursue include:

- Establishing a two-year cooling off period before an elected official can be hired to lobby the government body where the individual served;

- Creating a two-year cooling off period before an elected official or regulator can be hired to work for any agency they regulated or oversaw;

- Putting the state’s checkbook online where taxpayers can see how tax dollars are spent;

- Putting the entire state budget on the web so taxpayers can see spending priorities;

- Requiring all candidates for public office to report every financial contribution, the amount and donor, online within 72 hours of receipt.

Gov. Jim Gibbons has created a transparency page on state government spending on his website, so at least some of the state budget and spending information is already available to the public.

Oceguera said the Assembly Democrat proposal for reporting campaign contributions goes even further than what is being sought by Secretary of State Ross Miller, who wants earlier reporting of contributions and expenditures as well. Miller also wants reports filed electronically so the public can search the information more easily.

Oceguera said he and Miller worked closely on other measures in 2009 and will likely do so on the campaign reports transparency issue in the upcoming session as well.

Efforts to improve the reporting and usefulness of campaign reports have ended in failure in the past. A proposal to require online reporting for most officials passed the Assembly in 2009 but the provision was deleted in a Senate Committee by Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno.

Transparency has become an issue for many lawmakers on many different fronts. Many of those running for seats in the state Senate and Assembly have responded to a transparency questionnaire sent out by the Nevada Policy Research Institute. It asks candidates for their views on the posting of state spending information online as well as the need for a searchable database for campaign contributions, among other issues.

Other lawmakers have previously weighed in with their own proposals, including Assemblyman Ed Goedhart, R-Amargosa Valley, who has proposed a four-year cooling off period for lawmakers and statewide elected officials who want to become lobbyists.

Goedhart also wants a three-day wait before bills are voted on by the Legislature, another transparency proposal included on the NPRI candidate questionnaire.

Assemblyman Joe Hogan, D-Las Vegas, has weighed in with his own plan to change the campaign report filing deadlines to make the reports more useful to voters. He introduced similar legislation in 2009 that did not get a hearing.

Democrat candidate for governor Rory Reid in December released an ethics reform plan that includes a call for a two-year cooling off period before former lawmakers or state employees can represent private interests at the Legislature.

Twenty-six states have such laws. Nevada does not.

___

Audio clips:

Assembly Majority Leader John Oceguera says the Assembly will work to get transparency measures passed next session:

090910Oceguera1 :22 or the other.”

Oceguera says Assembly cooling off law would go further than what others are suggesting:

090910Oceguera2 :23 are talking about.”

Dozens of Nevada Candidates Respond Favorably To Transparency Query, Many More Have Yet To Reply

By Sean Whaley | 5:05 am September 9th, 2010

CARSON CITY – More than 60 candidates for legislative and statewide public office have responded to a questionnaire seeking their views on several key government transparency issues.

The results have been posted on TransparentNevada, a website operated by the Nevada Policy Research Institute. The questions include whether candidates support giving lawmakers and the public three days to read bills before a vote and if candidates support a searchable database of campaign contribution and expense reports.

The responses have come from across the political spectrum, including seven Democrats, 35 Republicans, and 20 minor party and independent candidates running for offices from governor to the state Assembly.

“It really is fundamental, I think, to democratic government that we the people have a right to know how our elected representatives are conducting business and what they are doing with public money,” said Andy Matthews, vice president for operations and communications for NPRI.

“It’s a good sign first of all that more than 60 candidates now have completed the questionnaire – and even more encouraging is that those who have completed the questionnaire are overwhelmingly indicating that they support these transparency measures, I think for just about every question,” he said.

But nearly 100 candidates, including the two leading party candidates for governor, have not yet responded to the questionnaire.

Matthews said candidates are being encouraged to respond. The website will be updated as responses are received through Election Day, he said.

The questionnaire also asks if candidates support putting details of Nevada state government spending online for public review, if they support open meetings for public employee union negotiations and if they support subjecting the Legislature to the state open meeting law.

The final question asks legislative candidates if they would be willing to sponsor legislation on any of the issues.

Some candidates who have not yet responded have indicated support for at least some of the proposals in the questionnaire.

Assemblyman Ed Goedhart, R-Amargosa Valley, has requested a bill draft to require a three-day waiting period before lawmakers can vote on bills.

Assembly Majority Leader John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, yesterday announced support for putting the state’s checkbook on line along with several other reforms, including a requirement for all candidates for public office to report every financial contribution, the amount and donor online within 72 hours of receipt.

“Today, we are putting a series of reforms before the public,” Oceguera said. “They are common sense and timely measures, and I will work for bipartisan support in both the Assembly and Senate.”

Secretary of State Ross Miller has requested legislation that would create an online searchable database of candidate contribution and expenditure reports. He pushed for similar legislation in 2009.

Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, who is running for the Washoe Senate 1 seat, said she supports transparency in government but is not responding to the survey because of her view that the NPRI has a clear political bias and a response would give the group undeserved credibility.

“I’m accountable to the voters, I’m not accountable to a conservative think tank,” she said. “It gives them a credibility that I don’t think they deserve. But I’m happy to respond directly to my constituents and certainly do support transparency in government.”

Asked if he is disappointed that neither Democrat Rory Reid nor Republican Brian Sandoval has yet responded, Matthews said it is the voters who should be concerned.

“Anytime you’ve got somebody who is seeking the highest office in the state, and you’ve got an issue like government transparency, which is so important especially in light of all the economic challenges we’re facing today, it’s important that they go on the record and tell voters where they stand,” he said.

The Sandoval campaign said today they will not be filling out the questionnaire. The Reid camp did not immediately respond to a question about whether they will fill it out.

Matthews said he expects that more candidates will respond as Election Day draws near.

___

Audio clips:

Andy Matthews of NPRI says transparency is important for the democratic process:

090810Matthews1 :11 with public money.”

Matthews says those responding so far strongly favor transparency issues:

090810Matthews2 :20 about every question.”

Matthews says voters should question those candidates who do not respond:

090810Matthews3 :20 where they stand.”

Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie says she did not reply because group has conservative bias:

090810Leslie1 :22 conservative think tank.”

Leslie says she supports transparency, but answers to her constituents:

090810Leslie2 :24 transparency in government.”